Edwin Stanton And The Coup d’ Etat

by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

There was an interesting and revelatory article, written by a David Offutt, that appeared in the El Dorado News-Times  in El Dorado, Arkansas on February 7, 2005. It was entitled Lincoln Assassination as a Planned Coup d’ Etat . Although I had not particularly thought of it in those terms, Mr. Offutt may well have had something in that contention.

His article, printed out, is two and a half pages long so I am not going to try to reproduce the whole thing, but will try to hit some of the high points he made.

Offutt noted the attacks on Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and William Seward. He also felt that the deaths of these three men would have been one of the worst things that could have happened to the South. He stated: “Had Lincoln, Johnson, and Seward all died as planned, the election results of November 1864 would have been overturned and the radical Republicans would have taken over the executive branch of the government while retaining control of the legislative branch. Lafayette S. Foster, a Republican senator from Connecticut, would have become President. Foster had been chosen to be the President pro tempore of the Senate for the 39th Congress, which would not convene until May 7, 1865. According to the Succession Act of 1792, the President pro tempore was next in line for the presidency after the Vice President. Without Seward, Edwin Stanton would have had no major opposition in the cabinet and would have been given authority over the South’s reconstruction.”

It was a fairly well-known fact that Lincoln and Congress did not agree on how “reconstruction” should be administered. Apparently, somehow or other, there was patronage involved and both Lincoln and the Congress wanted control over that. The Radical Abolitionists in Congress had a whole different idea about “reconstruction” than Lincoln did. Offutt noted that the Radicals wanted Stanton’s War Department to administer “reconstruction” rather than Seward’s State Department.

And Offutt commented that: “The stench of Edwin Stanton, who was contemptuous of Lincoln, is all over the events of this coup d’ etat. Here are a few examples. When reports were made to the War Department about suspicious activities at the boarding house where Booth and his co-conspirators met, he ordered no investigation. When Lincoln asked that Major Thomas Eckert be assigned as his bodyguard, he was given John T. Parker, who had been reprimanded for drunkenness and was in a bar when Lincoln was shot. Eckert had told Lincoln that he would have to work late at the telegraph office on the night of the play, but he actually went home early. And the telegraph lines out of Washington, DC, failed to work that night as Booth and company escaped! Stanton awarded Eckert by making him the Assistant Secretary of War. Also, Stanton urged Gen. Grant not to attend the play with the Lincolns. In fact, at the height of Lincoln’s popularity (because of the recent surrender of Lee), twelve people declined presidential invitations to join the first family at Ford’s Theater! Stanton also suppressed Booth’s diary for two years. When he was pressured to make it public, 18 pages were missing!” Gee, you don’t suppose—naw, Stanton would never have done that–would he???

Offutt felt that it was far more likely that Booth and company worked for or with Stanton and the radicals…”since they would have been the direct beneficiaries of the murders and circumstantial evidence indicates their extensive involvement.”

Way back in 1991 I wrote a nine-page essay on Edwin Stanton which I entitled Portrait of a Radical.

I noted Stanton’s early background and how he had been literally drenched in Abolitionist rhetoric since his earliest years–how, when he was six years old, he had grown used to hearing the tirades of one Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker who has been described as one of the “earliest professional abolitionists.” Lundy, from time to time, published a sort of newspaper called The Genius of Emancipation. In later years, Mr. Lundy is reported to have worked with another well-known abolitionist, a man by the name of William Lloyd Garrison. Maybe some of my readers have heard of him.

During his early working years, Stanton attended an anti-slavery lecture given by Theodore Weld. Weld was a Unitarian minister. His lecture seems to have made quite an impression on Stanton and he became a life-long convert to abolitionism. This would end up affecting what he did while in government.

Understand here, please, that there were different kinds of abolitionists, and the Northern variety, to which Stanton adhered was a lot different than the Southern variety. Radical abolitionists in the North included people like John Brown, possibly the first American terrorist. These people were going to do away with slavery any way they could, no matter how bloody or brutal or who got hurt in the process. Non-violent they were not!

We will continue with Comrade Stanton and his world view in the next article.

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